TarragonBotanical Name: Artemisia dracunculus (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Compositae
Synonyms: Little Dragon, Mugwort.
(French) Herbe au Dragon.
Parts Used: Leaves, herb.
Tarragon, a member of the Composite tribe, closely allied to Wormwood, is a perennial herb cultivated for the use of its aromatic leaves in seasoning, salads, etc., and in the preparation of Tarragon vinegar.
It grows to a height of about 2 feet and has long, narrow leaves, which, unlike other members of its genus, are undivided. It blossoms in August, the small flowers, in round heads, being yellow mingled with black, and rarely fully open. The roots are long and fibrous, spreading by runners.
Tarragon is more common in Continental than in English cookery, and has long been cultivated in France for culinary purposes.
The name Tarragon is a corruption of the French Esdragon, derived from the Latin Dracunculus (a little dragon), which also serves as its specific name. It was sometimes called little Dragon Mugwort and in French has also the name Herbe au Dragon. To this, as to other Dragon herbs, was ascribed the faculty of curing the bites and stings of venomous beasts and of mad dogs. The name is practically the same in most countries.
One of the legends told about the origin of Tarragon, which Gerard relates, though without supporting it, is that the seed of flax put into a radish root, or a sea onion, and set in the ground, will bring forth this herb.
Cultivation: Two kinds of Tarragon are cultivated in kitchen gardens. The French Tarragon, with very smooth, dark green leaves and the true Tarragon flavour, which is a native of the South of Europe, and Russian Tarragon, a native of Siberia, with less smooth leaves of a fresher green shade and somewhat lacking the peculiar tartness of the French variety.
As Tarragon rarely produces fertile flowers, either in England or France, it is not often raised by seed, but it may be readily propagated by division of roots in March or April, or by cuttings struck when growth is commencing in spring or later in the summer, under a hand-glass, placed outside. A few young plants should be raised annually to keep up a supply.
It loves warmth and sunshine and succeeds best in warm, rather dry situations, and a little protection should also be afforded the roots through the winter, as during severe frost they are liable to be injured. Both varieties need a dry, rather poor soil, for if set in a wet soil, they are likely to be killed by our winter.
The green leaves should be picked between Midsummer and Michaelmas. The foliage may also be cut and dried in early autumn for use in a dry state afterwards. The beds should then be entirely cut down and topdressed, to protect from frost. If green leaves are required during winter, a few roots should be lifted in the autumn and placed in heat: it will only need a small quantity to maintain a succession.
If the herb is required dried, for winter use, gather in August, choosing a fine day, in the morning after the sun has dried off the dew. Cut off close above the root and reject any stained or insect-eaten leaves. Tie in bunches - about six stalks in a bunch - spread out fanwise, so that the air may penetrate freely to ail parts and hang over strings, either on a hot, sunny day, in the open, but in half-shade, or indoors, in a sunny room, or failing sun, in a wellventilated room by artificial heat, care being taken that the window be left open by day, so that there is a free current of air and the moisture-laden air may escape. If dried in the open, bring in before there is any risk of damp from dew or showers. A disused green-house may be used as drying-shed, provided that the glass is shaded and that there is no tank in the house to cause steaming. Heating may be either by pipes or by any ordinary coke or anthracite stove, should sun fail, but ventilation is in all cases essential. The drying temperature for aromatic herbs should never exceed 80 degrees.
The bunches of herbs should be of uniform size and length, to facilitate packing, and when quite dry and crisp, must be packed away at once, in airtight boxes or tins, otherwise moisture will be re-absorbed from the air.
Medicinal Action and Uses: John Evelyn says of Tarragon:' 'Tis highly cordial and friend to the head, heart and liver.'
In Continental cookery its use is advised to temper the coolness of other herbs in salads. The leaves, which have a fragrant smell in addition to their aromatic taste, make an excellent pickle.
Fresh Tarragon possesses an essential volatile oil, chemically identical with that of Anise, which becomes lost in the dried herb.
To make Tarragon vinegar, fill a widemouthed bottle with the freshly-gathered leaves, picked just before the herb flowers, on a dry day. Pick the leaves off the stalks and dry a little before the fire. Then place in a jar, cover with vinegar, allow to stand some hours, then strain through a flannel jelly bag and cork down in the bottles. The best white vinegar should be used.
Tarragon vinegar is the only correct flavouring for Sauce Tantare, but must never be put into soups, as the taste is too strong and pungent. French cooks usually mix their mustard with Tarragon vinegar.
Russian Tarragon is eaten in Persia to induce appetite.
The root of Tarragon was formerly used to cure toothache.